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Anterior and medial thalamic lesions, discriminative avoidance learning, and cingulate cortical neuronal activity in rabbits

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Four groups of male albino rabbits were trained to perform a conditioned response (CR, stepping in an activity wheel) to an acoustic (pure tone) conditional stimulus (CS+). A 1.5–2.0 mA shock unconditional stimulus (US) delivered through the grid floor of the wheel was administered 5 s after CS + onset, but stepping during the CS-US interval prevented the US. The rabbits were also trained to ignore a second tone (a negative conditional stimulus or CS-) of different auditory frequency than the CS+, that was presented in an irregular order on half of the conditioning trials but never followed by the US. One group had bilateral electrolytic lesions in the medial dorsal (MD) thalamic nucleus, a second group had combined bilateral lesions in the MD and the anterior thalamic nuclei, and a third group had no lesions. The fourth group was composed of rabbits with combined lesions that resulted in only partial damage in the anterior and MD nuclei. In all rabbits, multi-unit activity and field potentials were recorded from the cingulate cortical projection targets of the MD and anterior nuclei. The average rate of acquisition in rabbits with MD and partial lesions was not significantly different from that in controls, but the asymptotic performance in rabbits with lesions was significantly impaired, relative to that in controls. None of the rabbits that had the combined MD and anterior thalamic lesions reached the acquisition criterion. The average proportion of trials in which these rabbits performed avoidance responses during their final training sessions was 0.3, compared to 0.8 in controls. The unconditioned response was not significantly affected by the lesions, nor was there any indication that the lesions impaired the sensory processing of the CSs. These results and the massive traininginduced neuronal discharges shown in past studies to occur in the limbic thalamic neurons indicate that these neurons are importantly involved in the circuitry that mediates discriminative avoidance conditioning in rabbits. The training-induced neuronal activity in cingulate cortex was dramatically attenuated in rabbits with lesions. Differences in the degree of this attenuation between lesion conditions and with respect to training stages were discussed in relation to a theoretical working model of limbic thalamic and cingulate cortical associative functions.

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Correspondence to M. Gabriel.

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Gabriel, M., Sparenborg, S. & Kubota, Y. Anterior and medial thalamic lesions, discriminative avoidance learning, and cingulate cortical neuronal activity in rabbits. Exp Brain Res 76, 441–457 (1989). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00247901

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Key words

  • Limbic thalamic lesions
  • Learning
  • Neuronal activity
  • Rabbits